Hey! Just received my TOEFL score – 106: Reading –28, Listening – 24, Speaking – 24, Writing – 30.
I prepared for the test myself using partially Princeton’s “Cracking the TOEFL iBT” of 2011 and relying on Bruce Stirling's "Speaking and Writing Strategies for the TOEFL iBT" for writing section instructions.
I must admit I’m disappointed since I was targeting 112 at least, 120 at most and 116 as a desirable result.. I may put as an excuse the fact that I slept no more than 2 hours the night before the test and that I was taking the test with the body temperature of 37.6 because I had gotten flu and hadn’t recovered. However I’m inclined to believe that true reason is inadequate preparation.Reading (28)
I spend only a day preparing for reading section as I was scoring quite well on it on my practice tests. And yet I was surprised to see the text I couldn’t easily read. It threw me off. So the texts on the actual TOEFL could be more difficult than on ETS practice test you can buy for $45. And it was a bad thing since being frustrated right at the beginning may take a negative toll on the entire test altogether. What I was missing was probably vocabulary, although I usually have no troubles with words. I can easily solve ‘vocabulary in context’ questions without even looking at the text. But I still check the answer with the text to assure correct answer. So, I think that one should focus heavily on building up vocabulary to handle reading section. ‘Vocabulary in context’ questions are those that you should spend about 20-30 seconds and they can buy you time necessary for ‘summary’ questions. I used to choose one wrong answer on them but then decided to limit myself to 1 minute for regular 1-point questions to set aside 3-5 minutes for ‘summary’ questions. You apparently have to review a text for better structure understanding before answering them and it takes quite a chunk of your time. I guess eventually that’s what helped me get 28 despite never getting that score on practice tests.
The most disappointing thing is that I lost at least seven minutes of 80 minutes. I was told that I could go to WC whenever I needed it during reading section so I did and when I came back I discovered that the timer on the screen wasn’t on hold while I was away. Nobody warned me that the clock wouldn’t be stopped. I was taking the test being sick so I had to go to WC quite often as I had drunk a lot of hot tea the night before the test.
Well, given this 7 minutes loss and quite difficult 80 minutes reading (1 additional passage) I’m surprised to have scored so high. I would probably stress here again that I changed the strategy after the practice test – “…but then decided to limit myself to utmost to 1 minute for regular 1-point questions to set aside 3-5 minutes for ‘summary’ questions”.Listening (24)
I’m devastated with listening results of 24 which is 68th percentile – it never even occurred to me I could score that low. I was getting straight 28s on every practice test I took so probably that’s why I made the mistake - I didn’t prepare specifically for listening section at all. I forgot what Robert Shuller once said - “Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation”. I briefly got myself familiar with the structure of the section by taking few practice tests. There are a lot of views on whether to take notes or not. Well, where I stand is you should take at least basic notes. The reason for this is it simply helps you stay focus. During my several initial practice tests I used to jot down almost every word thus occasionally missing few points from the lecture/conversation. Then I decided not to take notes at all as my memory turned out to be capable of retaining complete content. However, I started noticing that by using this approach I quite often found myself thinking about some staff rather than focusing on the lecture – and that was happening on the actual test! So I committed to writing down at least major points and examples just to keep myself focused, but probably too late and this must have negatively affected my score as well.
I certainly had 2 questions with equally attractive and undistinguishable answers in each question. I saw these tricky questions during my practice tests but didn’t put effort to study how to approach them. I figured the effort and time required was not worth it since I was getting 28 points on practice tests. Well, it turned out I should have taken the time and effort to explore them. Speaking (26)
The speaking part went more smoothly than on practice tests, so I’m puzzled why the score is that low. I am suspicious about my speaking score since I listened to sample responses provided by ETS and having earned 4 and I strongly disagree that they are any better than the responses I gave. So I'll probably go with speaking section re-scoring at least for an experience's sake. Though I'm doubtful it will make any difference (EDITED: It did. 2 points increase). For preparation I used templates provided by notefull.com and practiced them for a while. What I’d like to point out here is that before exploring the test I expected first two questions to be the most difficult. As it turned out they were the easiest. I received Good(3.5 - 4.0) for speaking about familiar topics and Fair(2.5 - 3.0) for the remaining four. On test day I started the test the last to eliminate the possibility for people to disturb me by tuning their mics and deliberately wasted some additional time during instructions screens so that when I got to take listening section almost everybody were done with their part and I didn't have to cope with disturbing noise. What I think decreased my score is not content but rather delivery. I speak with almost no accent and have quite good pronunciation as for non-native speaker, but perhaps I failed to deliver the speech coherently and smoothly since e-rater assigned me the same score as a human rater. This theory could be backed up by top score on writing section – I have no problem with topic development.Writing (30)
No surprises here. I’ve written up to 10 independent essays as a practice (see them attached along with the template I devised and used). I wrote only two integrated essays since it’s pretty straightforward. I like writing and have flair for it but still spent a while practicing which it seems to have paid off quite well. One thing to point out here – you may have notepads in test center with smaller keyboards then on usual PC – which may inhibit your typing speed. Find out what equipment is used in the test center you’re planning to take the exam at and practice with according keyboards. I wrote 490 words for independent essay and around 320 for integrated subsection.
Although I think I could spend some time boosting up listening and speaking section and eventually get 116, I don’t think I’m going to do that since I have no immediate urge for higher TOEFL score.
One more thing – the practice test I took for $45 was extremely accurate in determining my score on real TOEFL. Practice/Actual: reading - 27/28, listening – 28/24, speaking – 24/24, writing – 30/30. So I'd advise everybody to take it unless you're extremely strapped for money. In this way you'll be able to predict you score on actual test with high precision.
Now, again, for those reading this debrief to learn from my mistakes remember:
- Listening defines the score for listening section completely and heavily impacts speaking and writing section because if you didn’t understand the lecture or conversation you’ll have no material for topic development – the single most important factor on those sections.
- However easy listening section seems to be it’s full of weird and double-edged questions which you may select wrong even if you understand each word and idea in a lecture or conversation (case in point – me scoring shaming 24!)
- Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation. I've spent overall no more than 40 hours preparing for the test without any preparation against listening section so probably received the score I deserved. This is definitely going to be a good lesson for the future.
PS. My related thread - strategies-to-get-142243.html